5 Uses for Stacks You May Not Have Thought Of [Mac]

Jackson Chung 01-03-2009

Generally, Stacks has been ill-received by the Mac community due to its lack of functionality although it was pretty hyped up before Leopard was launched.


In my opinion, Stacks isn’t as bad as most people make it seem. After a bit of brainstorming, I managed to find a few more good uses for Stacks. Some of them may not be new tricks but I’d like to share them with you anyway.

Mail Attachments Stack

For those of you who use Apple Mail as the default mail application, this may actually come in useful for you. You can create a Stack to show all of your recent mail attachments.

Here’s how it works: every time you use Quick Look to preview mail attachments or directly open them by double-clicking on the attachment, they are automatically stored in ~/Library/Mail Downloads/

Simply drag the Mail Downloads folder to the Stacks section of the Dock and let go.

5 Uses for Stacks You May Not Have Thought Of [Mac] mail attachment stack


You may be overwhelmed by the thousands of attachments you have in there. It’s a good idea to arrange it by ‘Date Created’ and display it as Fan or List view so that you’ll know which are the latest attachments.

Any attachments which aren’t previewed with Quick Look or opened directly in Mail or instead, saved to the ‘Downloads’ folder will not show up in this folder.

Recent Applications/Documents/Servers Stack

This is a Terminal trick to make a Recent stack show up in the Dock. If you take a look at the Appearance preferences (System Preferences ->Appearance), you’ll notice a section which lets you determine the number of recent applications, documents and servers to display. This will generate a list located in the menu bar, click on the Apple icon -> Recent Items.

This is what you’ll need to do if you want that list to appear as a stack. Open Terminal (located in the Utilities folder or just Spotlight for it) and copy and paste these 2 lines of commands individually:


defaults write persistent-others -array-add ‘{ “tile-data” = { “list-type” = 1; }; “tile-type” = “recents-tile”; }’

killall Dock

After the Dock relaunches, the Recent Items stack will appear.

5 Uses for Stacks You May Not Have Thought Of [Mac] recent apps stack


Right-click on the stack and there is a contextual menu which will allow you to display the recent documents or servers instead.

5 Uses for Stacks You May Not Have Thought Of [Mac] contextual menu recent stack

The ‘Favorite Items’ stack doesn’t really work in Leopard – it merely displays the ‘Places’ section of the Finder sidebar. If you want to display your favorite items…

A Favorites Stack

A Favorites stack is basically a stack of anything which you add to the Favorites folder. This function is not unavailable in Leopard, it’s just slightly harder to find.


5 Uses for Stacks You May Not Have Thought Of [Mac] favourite stack

The old ‘Control-Option-Click’ shortcut to make an item a Favorite doesn’t work in Leopard. Instead, what you need to do is click on an item to select it, click on the File menu, press and hold the Shift key and click ‘Add to Favourites’. Or select an item and press Command-Shift-T.

The shortcuts/aliases are stored in ~/Library/Favorites/. Drag that folder to the Stacks section in the Dock to make your Favorites stack.

Preferences Stack

By making a Preferences stack, it’s possible to shave a few seconds off your navigating time. It’s not very difficult to make this stack. I’ll just need to explain something: the preference panes you see in System Preferences are located in various folders. Also, it’s not necessary to add all the preference panes to the Stack. For instance, I hardly ever go to the Speech preference pane so I can exclude that from the Stack.

To make this stack, create a folder called Preferences and place it in your Home folder.

Open a new Finder window and go to System/Library/PreferencePanes. Command-click on the preferences you want to add to your stack, then Command-Option-click and drag them to the Preferences folder in the other Finder window. You should end up with a folder of aliases to the preference panes.

5 Uses for Stacks You May Not Have Thought Of [Mac] prefpane aliases

These are only the default preferences from Mac OS X. The other preference panes for example Perian or Flip4Mac WMV are located at ~/Library/PreferencePanes. Repeat same procedure to put their aliases into the Preference folder you’ve created.

Once you’re done, drag the Preferences folder to the Stacks section of the Dock.

5 Uses for Stacks You May Not Have Thought Of [Mac] preferences stack

Stacks as actual drop boxes

By creating stacks for the Public Folder located in your Home folder; and the Public folder in the Dropbox folder (not applicable if you don’t use Dropbox DropBox: Review, Invites, and 7 Questions With the Founder Read More ), you can literally create drop boxes as dumping grounds for everything you want to share with others.

5 Uses for Stacks You May Not Have Thought Of [Mac] dropbox public folder

Drag-and-drop anything into these stacks and they’re automatically shared within your LAN or through the internet (in the case of Dropbox). To find out how to set up sharing within your local area network, take a look at this Macnifying OS X article Establish File-Sharing & Notifications Between Networked Macs Read More .

Are there any other useful Stacks tips you’d like to share with our readers? Let us know in the comments.

Related topics: Application Dock, OS X Finder, OS X Leopard.

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  1. David Evans
    March 7, 2009 at 9:29 am

    I've tried to move the dock to the bottom of the screen, but it never lasts more than a few hours. Muscle memory and the fact that on a 24 inch monitor or laptop screen what we have is width to work with, not height, so I keep the dock on the right-hand side.

    I don't like that clicking anything in a stack seems to open it up in the finder. Adding frequently-accessed folders to the finder sidebar is a much more usable solution for me.

    I will keep checking out tricks like this, maybe snow leopard will do it for me.

  2. Snehal
    March 2, 2009 at 8:50 am

    I am using to create stacks with shortcuts for various purpose. Like a stack for iLife suite. a stack for office, which lists all the office applications. A stack of utilities, which I generally use frequently like Jing, 1Password, Evernote etc. Also, I have 1 stack for the Remote Desktop Connections for my client sites.

  3. chase
    March 1, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    I can't get the recent stack to work I get
    -bash: syntax error near unexpected token `}'

    • Jackson
      March 2, 2009 at 12:57 am

      It works for me. Did you copy and paste it?

      defaults write persistent-others -array-add '{ "tile-data" = { "list-type" = 1; }; "tile-type" = "recents-tile"; }'

      • scratic
        March 14, 2009 at 10:05 am

        Try this for the recent items stack:
        defaults write persistent-others -array-add '{ "tile-data" = { "list-type" = 1; }; "tile-type" = "recents-tile"; }'
        follow it with the killall Dock and you're good

    • Jackson
      March 2, 2009 at 12:58 am

      Let me know if it works or not, I found a backup Applescript which will do the same thing.